[b-hebrew] Fw: Job 38:8 ??

Will Parsons wbparsons at alum.mit.edu
Wed Dec 5 17:13:02 EST 2012

On Wed, 5 Dec 2012 09:00:48 -0800, K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com> wrote:
>>>> Curious, what is the evidence that the Samekh was like an "X"?
> The first evidences I noticed are that the Samekh is in the same place in
> the alphabet in both Hebrew and Greek where the Xi has the “X” sound.
> Secondly, both in archaic Hebrew and archaic Greek, the letter has the same
> shape. Only later I noticed that the name Artaxerxes uses a Samekh for the
> second “x” in Hebrew.
> Admittedly, these are not proof, but suggestive.

As far as the position of xi in the alphabet corresponding to samekh,
I think that *is* suggestive, but doesn't necessarily point to Hebrew
(or really Phoenician) samekh having a [ks] phoneme.  More likely, the
Greek sibilant phoneme(s) didn't match completely with the various
Phoenician sibilants, and the Phoenician samekh struck the Greek ear
as something whose nearest equivalent was like Greek /ks/.  (And
apparently Phoenician shin/sin was the best fit for Greek /s/.)

"Artaxerxes" is interesting, but it seems to me it has to be
considered in conjunction with the even more famous Persian king named
"Xerxes".  It's hard to look at these two Greek forms without thinking
that "Artaxerxes" is an expanded form of "Xerxes", but the Persian
forms they're based on, "Artakhshaça" and "Khshayarsha", are not so
strikingly similar.  Of course the khsh (i.e., [xʃ]) sequence would be
represented in Greek by xi, but it's interesting to note that the
second [ʃ] in "Khshayarsha" was also represented by Greek xi.  I'm not
sure what a "good" Greek rendering of "Artakhshaça" would be, but I
can't help but think the actual form "Artaxerxes" has been assimilated
in form somewhat to the more famous "Xerxes".

> The Greeks got their alphabet from the Phoenicians, and admitted to that.
> The Phoenicians from the Hebrews, so I’m assuming that in the borrowing
> that the phonemes stayed the same, at least at first.

I don't think that's a good assumption.  I think it's safe to assume
that when the Greeks got their alphabet from the Phoenicians, they used
the Phoenician letters with values nearest to their own, but having
quite different phonologies, the correspondence between the sounds in
the two languages could be quite approximate.  (And of course, the
Greeks were quite creative in re-defining some Phoenician guttural
consonant letters as vowels.)

Apart from what I've written above, I see as a more fundamental
problem with a consonant cluster like [ks] acting as a single phoneme
(and hence being represented by a single letter) in Hebrew (or other
Semitic languages).  If samekh *did* represent a cluster, then I would
expect to see at least some instances where samekh was used in words
where /k/ and /s/ as separate sounds happened to fall together, i.e.,
a parallel to Greek νυξ/nyx vs νυκτες/nyktes.

Will Parsons
μη φαινεσθαι, αλλ' ειναι.

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